Big Blocks

pns_big_blocks_smallThe beauty of blocks is their simplicity. They invite us to create, and collaborate!

Recently children at PNS spent the morning making houses, ramps, bridges, train tracks, sewing studios and an imaginary world inhabited by a mysterious creature called “the snitchet.”

Harvest Feast


Last week PNS celebrated the harvest season with its annual feast. Families enjoyed soup, pumpkin and corn breads, butter and jam all prepared by the kids. What a delicious ending to fall!


Classroom update: The Feelings Wheel

An emphasis of PNS’s play-based curriculum is social and emotional learning. For many students nursery school is one of their earliest experiences outside of the home and gaining comfort and confidence in a classroom setting is a goal for many families. One way the teachers at PNS support this goal by teaching students to identify and name their feelings, empowering them to communicate their emotions to others and to recognize what those around them are feeling. This learning happens in many forms: through play, through stories and puppet play at circle time, and by drawing and story telling.

One project that the class does every year to support social and emotional learning is the creation of a Feelings Wheel. This year the children began to relate looks and feelings to words by making self portraits and studying their own faces using mirrors. Drawing from typical experiences in the classroom, Kristen and Teri developed scenarios that tapped into different emotions and asked the children to describe or show how they would feel in that situation. The teachers captured those expressions on camera and, finally, the students revisited the photos to discuss what they saw and to create the wheel itself.

The end result is different every year but is always a useful tool to have in the classroom. Having actively participated in its creation the kids feel a great deal of ownership over the Feelings Wheel and willingly use it to give voice to their feelings.

Fall Festival


The Parents’ Nursery School Fall Festival is held every October. This event is put on by current families at the school who organize games, crafts, a bake sale, live entertainment and more. The festival is a popular time for PNS alumni to come back and visit the school and catch up with teachers and friends. It’s also a great time to connect with other local families who want to learn more about PNS and to enjoy an event that helps raise money for the PNS scholarship fund.

Apple season



Last week the class made apple sauce. This harvest time tradition at Parents’ Nursery School goes back decades and is featured in the PNS Cookbook. Published in 1974, this book includes simple recipes that have been used at the school over the years. Many recipes focus on whole, seasonal foods. This passage from the book’s introduction perfectly summarizes the value of cooking in the nursery school classroom.

Going beyond the readymade product, children learn that not all soup comes from cans, nor bread from packages . . . There is a tremendous amount of learning involved in cooking — motor, sensory, conceptual, and social skills all have a part to play. 

Perhaps most importantly, the kids love to cook! Children can participate in whichever parts of the process interest them–from taking a turn peeling the apples with our red-geared contraption, to chopping and examining the fruit’s tiny seeds. Finally mashing and adding cinnamon before loading the apples into the pot to boil and fill the classroom with the sweet scent of apples and spice. At snack time we got to try the finished applesauce. Yum!

peeling_2 Peeling.



thumbs_upMost importantly, tasting: two thumbs up!

Carrots are in!


Despite the summer’s dry weather the annual carrot crop at PNS is in! Every fall students have the chance to experience the thrill of pulling an edible treat out of the school’s vegetable garden. Will the orange root be long or short? Twisted, hairy or bulbous? This fun hands-on activity starts off a broader fall harvest unit culminating in a November Harvest Feast prepared for the school’s families by the students and their teachers.



After pulling a carrot the children can take their treasure to the sink to wash and enjoy fresh from the earth or save to take home and share.

back at it!

Kristen and Teri welcomed new and returning students to school last week. The 2016-17 school year is off to a busy start as children explore the classroom and get to know their new classmates!

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Follow Parents Nursery School on Facebook!

Our teachers are gearing up for another great year at PNS! In the meantime, please follow PNS on Facebook here, where our teachers often post pictures of daily activities at the school. We have a few remaining spots for 2016-2017 enrollment, so please visit our admissions page if you would like further information.

Working Hard at Play!

PNS – A Parent’s Perspective

IMG_0552Each day at PNS children are playing. Yet, much more goes on than meets the eye. Every element of the school, every corner, every toy is given careful thought and consideration. How the children play, what they play with, who their playmates are, the nature of their play – none of it escapes the caring, ever-patient and mindful teachers. When children engage in constructive play with the open-ended materials at PNS, they are creating, testing, learning and growing, each in their own way.

PNS is a child-centered, play- and discovery-based preschool. “Aren’t all schools child-centered?” you might wonder. Surprisingly, no. Some preschool settings are “teacher-centered” meaning the teacher structures what and how children learn. Teachers may do this by guiding how children move through different learning centers—requiring that children engage in certain kinds of play on a particular schedule. Teacher-centered and child-centered simply reflect different philosophies on how children learn, neither inherently better, it simply depends on the fit with the child’s learning style.

At PNS each child chooses what she focuses her attention on and the teacher facilitates this process. Each morning, teachers set out open-ended materials – toys, art supplies, books, blocks, and similar things that can be used in many ways – around the various spaces of the school. When children arrive, they are free to engage in what they wish, for the time they wish, and in the way they wish. A clear explanation of the PNS philosophy & curriculum is available on the school’s website; yet, there are aspects of the philosophy that merit a closer look – a glimpse at what those principles look like on the ground.

Faith in Children
IMG_0434At PNS children are free to play dress-up, build structures from wooden blocks, play inside or outside, to use their “innate curiosity as a springboard for learning.” This allows the children to hone, test and grow their abilities at a pace that is all their own. The importance of free play is founded on a core principle of the PNS philosophy – faith in children – meaning that given a caring and safe environment children’s instincts and own curiosity are the greatest drivers of learning.

More Learning, Less Teaching
IMG_0430This sounds like a contradiction, “How will children learn if they are not taught?” Children are constantly learning from their environment, their interactions and their experiences. The role of the teachers at PNS is to facilitate learning, and encourage the skills that are critical to life-long learning: perception, questioning, discovery, creativity, and problem-solving.

An excellent example of this is how teachers handle the common situation of two children who both want the same toy. The teachers first hold the toy in debate for safe keeping and engage the children in conversation. They ask each child in turn what happened and help the children articulate what feelings were prevailing (frustration, sadness, anger). They ask the children for ideas on how to solve the problem. They patiently hear the options, (“I will keep the toy” or we can take turns for 3 days each”) until the children come to a solution.

From a parent’s perspective this is truly a beautiful interaction and is effective the majority of times; yet, it takes tremendous self-restraint for an “untrained” adult to avoid simply telling the children how to fix the problem. Instead, by engaging the children’s problem-solving skills PNS teachers facilitate the development of negotiation and social skills – things that cannot be taught but must be experienced.

Rules are for safety not convenience
I will self disclose that there are many rules in my house that exist purely to preserve my sanity – no glitter enters this threshold. I appreciate that the rules at PNS exist purely for the safety and wellbeing of the children. Incredibly, children are well-aware of this and respect these rules more readily than rules that might be created for the convenience of the adults. This set-up opens the door for many creative endeavors.

Everything the kids encounter at PNS is intended for play of any type the child can imagine. In this space, tape (of all colors) is for art and creating creatures and structures of all sorts and not limited to the mundane task of repairing torn paper.

Cooperative Model
IMG_0550The co-op structure of PNS is inherent to the school philosophy; it was chosen by the parents who incorporated PNS because they wanted to be part of their children’s first educational experience. It became a place for parents to learn parenting skills, to learn about other people’s children, and to reap the benefits of a warm and supportive community. This rich tradition dating back to the late 1940s carries on today, being a co-op allows parents to be involved in and aware of their children in ways most parents never get to experience.

Twice a month each parent helps in the classroom. Much of this time is unstructured and children are eager to show parents their favorite play activity. Parents get to see their children in a context where the children feel proud ownership of and comfort in their space, at ease with their friends, and generally feel empowered – a rewarding experience for parents and children. Parents get to know one another and the teachers in a more meaningful way than the casual “Hello!” at pick-up | drop-off and the bi-annual review meeting. A personal favorite benefit of this model – parents get to learn first-hand the strategies teachers employ and learn the language to help kids navigate challenging situations.

To facilitate the running of the school and ensure good communication, there are monthly community meetings. This is an opportunity for everyone to connect, plan and ensure smooth running of the school overall. An important part of these meetings is that teachers set aside time to give a classroom overview, this entails commenting on how the children are interacting, prevailing themes, projects children are working on, particular challenges and how they are addressed, and noticeable areas of growth among the group as a whole. There is always time for questions. These meetings provide a meaningful update and truly showcase the school’s philosophy in action.

PNS TrainAt PNS everyone works hard, teachers work to create a safe, challenging and fun environment, parents make up the community and support system for PNS, and the children work hard at play!

If you haven’t seen it yet, be sure to check out the PNS video. It is a brief overview of the school’s philosophy and gives parent perspectives as well. Video Update: PNS is now located at 117 Cushing Street Cambridge, MA.


By Melissa Selem, PNS Parent 2014-2015